Managing Mesothelioma Caregiver Emotions Through the Holidays
December 17, 2018
Providing care for a loved one facing mesothelioma is a deeply emotional endeavor.
Caregivers continually deal with their emotions while selflessly caring for their loved one.
Higher stress levels can make managing feelings more difficult. Unchecked stress and negative feelings may have undesirable repercussions such as lashing out at loved ones, internalizing emotions or even physical illness.
The holiday season may usher in much-needed caregiver support from friends and extended family members.
However, the holidays may also increase stress levels.
Caregivers may feel additional worries associated with preparing the home for guests, attending family gatherings, completing holiday shopping and creating an enjoyable holiday experience for their care receiver.
Typical Emotions Mesothelioma Caregivers Face
A publication, developed by the Family Caregiver Alliance, normalizes and validates many of the emotions typically experienced by family care providers.
Caregivers experience positive and negative emotions stemming from their duties.
These people may feel positive emotions such as love, appreciation, pride, joy and satisfaction from caring for a loved one facing an illness. The positive emotional experience can boost a caregiver’s self-esteem and provide a sense of meaningfulness to their daily activities.
Because of the fear of judgment, many caregivers may ignore or deny experiencing negative emotions.
It is essential to understand even negative feelings are universal to the caregiving experience.
Because the holidays can further increase stress and worry, it is imperative for caregivers to develop tools to cope with their emotions.
The Taboo Emotional Experience
Acknowledging one’s feelings is a foundational element of coping. Family care providers need to address all of their feelings, including those considered socially unacceptable.
The Family Caregiver Alliance illustrates some of the negative emotions that often emerge through a family caregiver’s work experience:
Anger: Caregivers may experience anger when they feel unappreciated or when they feel others lack an understanding of all the duties they fulfill. Family members visiting for the holidays may ignite feelings of anger when they offer unsolicited caregiving advice or unnecessarily critique a caregiver’s performance.
Anxiety: This emotion has many names such as “worry,” feeling “keyed-up” or “stressed out.” No matter the label, unhealthy levels of anxiety stemming from caregiving duties coupled with additional holiday worries can negatively impact a caregiver’s ability to provide adequate care for their loved one.
Sadness: Seeing a loved one’s health deteriorate from the progression of cancer can be heart-wrenching and likely induces feelings of sadness. Declining invitations to holiday celebrations, dealing with holiday-related financial strain and longing for the joy of past holidays may cause a caregiver to experience increased sadness this time of year.
Guilt: This may be the most insidious of the negative emotions experienced by caregivers. Family care providers become so accustomed to meeting the needs of others, they feel guilty for having needs as well. The holiday season may increase guilt as caregivers may feel guilty for enjoying themselves or having a desire to celebrate.
Jealousy: Caregivers may experience jealousy directed toward friends and family members who do not have caregiving responsibilities and worries.
Primary caregivers may find ignoring emotions can be detrimental to their health and well-being.
Identifying and acknowledging difficult feelings may be the first step toward coping with caregiving and holiday-related stress.
Self-Care Is Essential for Caregivers
Developing healthy coping skills can help caregivers manage the stress of providing care and dealing with the holidays.
Self-awareness, fulfilling personal needs and setting limitations may help caregivers develop coping strategies to deal with stress and difficult emotions.
Increasing self-awareness occurs by paying close attention to physical and emotional responses to various situations. Attending to increasing emotion levels may allow a person to implement a coping strategy before a situation gets out of hand.
Our bodies often alert us to the escalation of emotions. Being cognizant of these physical and mental prompts is a precursor to setting personal limits.
Understanding and accepting when we reach a limitation or boundary allows us to set (and enforce) personal limits.
As family caregivers, we may sometimes ignore our own needs for the sake of providing for others.
Because family care providers cannot sustain care provision while enduring the mental and physical costs of unmet needs, a caregiver’s needs must come first.
Adaptive Coping Strategies During the Holidays
With the added stress of the holiday season, it is even more important caregivers equip themselves with a good set of adaptive coping skills.
Care providers can develop coping tools in a personal way. Trying out various means of coping will help caregivers find out what works best for them in their particular situation.
Some examples of adaptive coping strategies include:
Mindful Breathing: Taking deep breaths while pinpointing inhaling and exhaling eases a caregiver through a stressful situation. It is effective because it requires no extra tools and is useful anytime and anywhere.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is another “anytime, anywhere” coping skill that can help a person cope during times of stress. While focusing on individual muscle groups, a person sequentially tenses and then relaxes muscles, yielding a calming effect.
Grounding: By keeping attention momentarily rooted in sensory experience, one can better cope with intense emotion. Attending to sensory input such as visual experiences, sounds, smells, tastes and touch can divert one’s attention away from stressors.
Feeling overwhelmed during the holidays can make the stress of caregiving unbearable.
It is imperative caregivers pursue adequate support when needed.
Reaching out to support groups, mental health professionals or friends and loved ones for support through the holidays can help primary caregivers cope with the added stress.